Resolution explores new management for Maunakea

HONOLULU — Two state legislative committees on Thursday passed a resolution creating a working group to develop recommendations for new management of Maunakea.

The peak is the site of a years-long dispute between those who support conducting world-leading astronomy research there and those who believe the modern telescopes desecrate a place many Native Hawaiians believe is sacred.

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The University of Hawaii currently manages the summit under a 65-year lease from the state of Hawaii that’s due to expire in 2033. Critics say the university has done a poor job of consulting Native Hawaiians since observatory construction began there in the late 1960s.

Today, the summit is home to about a dozen of the world’s most advanced telescopes seeking to study space using the location’s clear skies and limited air and light pollution.

The resolution calls for the House speaker to appoint the working group’s chair as well as three members from the House of Representatives and seven Native Hawaiians nominated by indigenous organizations. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the university’s Board of Regents and Maunakea Observatories would each designate one member.

The resolution didn’t mention the Thirty Meter Telescope, a new observatory planned for the summit by an international consortium including the University of California and California Institute of Technology and the nations of Canada, China, India and Japan.

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The consortium obtained state permits to build the telescope, but a group of mostly Native Hawaiian protesters in 2019 blocked the road leading to the summit so construction crews couldn’t get there to build the facility. TMT has since suspended construction but continues to pursue the project.

The House Water and Land Committee passed the resolution 5-0 while the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee passed the resolution 11-2. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

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